The Nashville Predators, winners of six of seven, will begin their Wednesday showdown with the Sharks in fourth place in the West – a conference that may be the deepest it’s ever been.
That’s pretty impressive considering just two-to-three weeks ago they couldn’t score goals consistently and lost their starting goaltender for up to a month. But Barry Trotz’s gang has turned on the jets, resembling the team that Preds fans have grown accustomed to. They back to playing ‘Predator Hockey’ once again, winning tight games and out-working opponents.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about this great stretch from the Preds is the play of their rookie netminder. Filling in for the injured Pekka Rinne, the 6’6” Anders Lindback has been rock-solid. Since Rinne went down, Lindback is 4-0-1 with a 1.40 goals-against and .955 save percentage, including back-to-back shutouts.
His laid back approach off the ice has helped him on it, most notably sealing a win in Detroit making big save after big save – a tall task for a 22-year-old rookie who had never played in North America before this year. He wasn’t fazed by going into the Joe and facing superstar country-mates like Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg. His 35-save performance in their 3-2 win against the Wings was arguably the Preds’ biggest ‘W’ of the year to date.
Another thing that has stood out is how they responded after beating Detroit. Since the lockout, the Preds had beaten their Motor City rivals 15 times (prior to last week). Following those wins (in 13 games when they followed up against a different opponent), Trotz and company went 4-9 in what loosely became known as the ‘Detroit Hangover’.
They could have easily looked at the schedule, seen Florida and New York on the slate, and taken them lightly and/or not bring the same intensity. I guess beating those two by a combined score of 8-0 answered that question.
“It shows some maturity,” Trotz noted. “Sometimes the human reaction is ‘Ok, I can take a breather tonight. We should be able to beat these guys or what have you’, and you tend to bring that mental focus and attitude down a little bit. I think we showed a lot more maturity in the last two games of making sure we take care of business.”
Back when the offense was struggling, Trotz decided to shift the lines up front. That decision has certainly paid dividends. Ever since, they’ve gone on this 6-0-1 stretch and are a bad 40 minutes in Atlanta away from being on a seven-game win streak.
The offensive duo of Sergei Kostitsyn and Martin Erat has really sparked the offense. Kostitsyn is starting to adapt to Trotz’s system and is being rewarded with more ice-time with each passing game. The ex-Canadien has two goals and eight points in the last seven games (plus a six-game point streak), while Erat also has eight points in the same span.
The top line has also gotten a boost from Colin Wilson’s presence. He struggled earlier in the year and even went through a stretch where he only had one point in 12 games. Wilson has played with a lot more confidence alongside Cal O’Reilly and Steve Sullivan. That trio has combined for 15 points in this stretch.
“When you’re playing on the top line and have more ice-time, it allows you to build confidence,” Wilson said. “At the same time we’re all making plays. (O’Reilly and Sullivan) both see the ice really well; they’re both hockey-smart. We kind of think the game the same way.”
In the last seven games, the offense has been scoring 3.43 goals per game – an improvement from November’s rough patch.
They’ll need to keep up this hot streak in the next couple weeks as they are set to play the likes of San Jose, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis and Dallas between now and Dec. 28 – all teams they are battling with in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.